UBC is going to pay for copyrighted content on its own, but it remains to be seen what this means for students, staff and faculty.
UBC has rejected a deal to buy licences for copyrighted course content through Access Copyright (AC), a private company based out of Toronto. By rejecting a deal reached by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), UBC sees itself as a trailblazer on the issue, and will set up an in-house copyright office to licence content.
“You’ll probably be able to count on the fingers of one hand those [universities] who have taken this stance,” said David Farrar, UBC provost and vice-president academic. “We believe [UBC] will be the largest finger on that hand.”
Although UBC President Stephen Toope is also the chair of the AUCC, he is strongly in support of UBC working out licensing with individual publishers rather than buying a catch-all (or, as Toope argues, catch-some) licence from AC. “I actually think that this really is a principled and perhaps even courageous stance,” said Toope.
According to Farrar, the move could save UBC a substantial amount of money—up to $1 million each year. As more and more content is distributed to students electronically, rather than through photocopied course packages, Access Copyright decided to change the way they collected money from universities. “Once you move into digital distribution…there’s no central payment point,” said Maureen Cavan, Access Copyright’s executive director.
A previous deal between UBC and AC, which ended in 2010, cost UBC $3.38 per student, plus 10 cents per printed page of content. The new agreement, which UBC decided not to sign, brought the per-student fee up to $26 but did away with the per-page fee.
“Is this going to be easy for our faculty? No,” said Farrar. He acknowledged that not signing the agreement creates more work for faculty, who must vet individual pieces of course content. However, he argued that the new in-house system would work better with UBC’s new online learning management system, Blackboard, which will fully replace Vista by January 2013.
As a teaching assistant in the creative writing Program, Emily Walker doesn’t think the new system will be easy on her. “The idea that we can go at this alone and it will only create a little extra work for TAs and instructors is asinine,” said Walker.
She said that, when discussing with profs what texts she would use for in-class presentations, “the conversation was never about whether that text highlighted our lesson well. It was always about whether the text had been cleared yet.”
Walker added, “I hope that these universities band together to come up with some alternate system to make this work, because the way we are doing things right now at UBC is not working.”
When asked about her reaction to UBC’s decision, Cavan indicated that it wasn’t a huge surprise to her. “Does it worry us? Well, it certainly is something that we’re not blind to. This is nothing new, that there are those who would wish to find access to content in other ways.”
Although Access Copyright does provide licensing for a great deal of content, Farrar stated that UBC would have needed to operate its own licensing office as well, regardless of whether it signed on with AC. “Access Copyright itself only owns a subset of the material, and there are at least 180 publishers that are not part of Access Copyright,” said Farrar. “So, any university that’s really doing their job should have an office that’s doing individual clearances.”
Despite the challenges that UBC may face, Toope is optimistic that going our own way on this issue will work out well. “We actually are in a better position than most Canadian universities to stay out of that agreement,” said Toope.